Structuring Magic: Towards a Digital Infrastructure of Texts and Artefacts

20 - 24 February 2023

Venue: Lorentz Center@Snellius

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In the past decades magic has become an important field of academic study. The definition of the term remains fluid, as it also was in antiquity. What constituted “magic” (and religion) changed not only according to time and place, but also according to the group or person who defined it. Today magic is studied both as a theoretical construct and as a tradition of texts (written or recited), artefacts, and practices. One feature that awaits further development is the complex interrelation between magical texts and artefacts from different cultures, across time and space. It is high time that this interrelation is explored systematically, in a structured and methodical manner. 
Our “Structuring Magic” workshop aims to lay the basis for this.

“Structuring Magic” will take steps towards creating an infrastructure for the systematic cross-cultural study of magical texts from antiquity to the modern day, within Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. The aim of this infrastructure is to allow magical texts and artefacts to reveal larger stories of intercommunal relations, interlinguistic contact, and the processes of transmission and transformation of ritual practices over thousands of years. While such a feat would be unthinkable several decades ago, the novel tools and methods of digital humanities (DH) and computational linguistics turn it into a real prospect.

The workshop intends to:
1. Devise the model of a digital infrastructure for the analysis of magical texts and artefacts, using methods 
and tools from computational linguistics and digital humanities.
2. Devise an initial index of motifs that appear in magical texts, similar in concept to folklore indices. 
3. Establish an interdisciplinary academic network for the study of magic. 

At the conclusion of “Structuring Magic” we will produce a workshop report, to be published in a widespread academic venue. The report will summarize the workshop findings, invite wider comment and engagement from colleagues, and launch the academic network mentioned above. This network of scholars will work together in future years, both on developing the digital infrastructure and motif index, as well as advancing novel avenues for the field. Taking this discipline to the next level can only be obtained by structuring magic.


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